Soarin’ by Jerry Goldsmith

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Soarin' Sign - Epcot

Soarin’ sign at The Land Pavilion in Epcot

As I’m getting ready for a trip to Walt Disney World, I decided to go in a slightly different direction with this post. I’m taking you to my favorite Disney ride: Soarin’. Located in The Land pavilion at Epcot, this attraction takes you on a simulated flight over the sights of California. But what really makes this ride stand out for me is the music. Legendary film composer Jerry Goldsmith (1929-2004) wrote the score for the film that’s shown during the ride. Even if the name isn’t familiar, if you’ve seen Star Trek: the Next Generation, The Mummy, Alien, and a whole lot more, then you’ve heard his music. I highly encourage you to read this article about the background of Soarin’ and how Goldsmith came to work on the project.

This is my happy place.

(Apparently embedding is disabled for this video. If you hit play on here, there will be a message in the YouTube box that gives you a link to click to watch it directly on YouTube. Just click on that. Sorry about that – didn’t realize this would happen, but all my time marks are based on this particular video.)

As you listen to Soarin’, pay attention to how the music reflects the mood and setting of each scene in the movie. That’s what film composers are trained to do. Music can add such emotion to what we see on the screen, whether its happiness, fear, bravery, or anger. What other movie music has moved you? Do you hear any patterns as to what type of music corresponds to a certain emotion?

The piece actually starts with a low hum as the “flight attendant” (Patrick Warburton) says “we’re ready for takeoff” (0:16). The drone moves up a step at 0:27 and we hear some fluttering up to a brief legato motif that leads us into the full piece.

Goldsmith uses four primary themes throughout the piece, which I’m calling A, B, C, and D as is usual in music analysis. We hit theme A at 0:34, a duet between horn (what else?) and strings. There’s a lot of horn in this piece – Jerry Goldsmith certainly knew how to write for the instrument.

At 0:53 we move to theme B, a smooth, serene melody that flows like the river we see in the movie. We hear triplet arpeggios subtly bubbling underneath in the piano along with some faster bubbles in what sound to me like synthesized strings. We move from floating down the river to floating in the sky with the repeat of the B theme at 1:16. This time it’s a little louder, and we have excellent horn echoes at 1:24 and 1:32.

We get a new theme (C) at 1:35. The horn takes over, and we have more intense, yet still subtle, rippling underneath. We’ve also sped up just a tiny bit. It doesn’t seem like a huge difference, but I think it gives the theme a feeling of urgency. The C theme doesn’t last very long; we change to snow and the B theme at 1:50, continuing at the faster tempo. This theme is short as well – just once through with a slightly different ending in order to lead us back to our A theme at 2:08. Up until now, we’ve held pretty steady in a 4/4 time signature. There were a few measures of 3/4 early on, but for the most part you could count 1-2-3-4 throughout. But when we get back to the A theme here, Goldsmith cleverly changes it up a bit and alternates between 4/4 and 3/4 (so you get 1-2-3-4 1-2-3 1-2-3-4 1-2-3). Another change here is that the horns and strings switch melodies.

We come back to the floating B theme at 2:23, although it has changed from the last time we heard it (I would consider calling it B’ – the apostrophe indicates that it’s not quite the same this time around). Listen for the pizzicato strings that travel up from the bass notes here. We hear more of the modified B theme at 2:36. Notice how the quick upward run at 2:52 coincides with the golf ball flying at our faces? Then we fall back down into a new theme.

We reach theme D at 2:58. This is a bold theme in the horns (told you he used the horn a lot!) with the most percussive accompaniment yet in the piece. At 3:15 the D theme moves into the strings with a brass countermelody. We have a sudden transition into sustained notes from the strings as we watch the jets do a flyover.

After the jets, we jump back into theme A, and also back into straight 4/4 time. Then we float along to theme B at 3:59 and watch the surfers. Goldsmith throws in a 3/4 measure at 4:12 before taking one more run at the B theme, this time with added horn effects. At 4:24, we hear some new material that ushers in the closing thoughts of the piece. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this bold statement from the horn accompanies our entrance into Disneyland! We see Tinkerbell sprinkle some fairy dust, and we hear a callback to our B theme as fireworks shower over Disneyland. Did you see the hidden Mickey?

After the fireworks show, we return to the airport. Yes, I’ve been one of those people who applauds the ride when we’re done. I told you this is my happy place.

Be sure to gather all your personal belongings and take young children by the hand as you exit the blog post. Have a magical day!

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2 thoughts on “Soarin’ by Jerry Goldsmith

  1. I was sorry to read that Jerry Goldsmith had passed. As a horn player myself I love when a composer seems to really understand how and what to write for horns.

    First heard this piece at Disneyland several years ago when I took my students for a competition. Of course I loved the ride but the music – even in the queue – was captivating.

    I’d love to have my orchestra play it.

    • I love Goldsmith’s music, and am sorry there won’t be more in the future. He definitely knew how to use horns! The music for Soarin’ is such a gorgeous score that I never get tired of hearing it. The ride is closed for refurb right now, and sadly (to me) it’s getting a new movie, which means new music. Here’s hoping it will still be good, but I’ll mourn the loss of my beloved ride.

      I agree that the music needs to be played by live orchestras (and other groups – I’ve considered transcribing it for band). What orchestra are you with?

What do you think?